The cover may suggest an alarmist piece about Pakistan. The article actually in the issue, though, is precisely the opposite. Granting that Pakistan is an important country that has very serious problems, it asserts that there is no chance that it will break up, fall into the hands of Osama bin Laden, or launch a nuclear attack. If the USA sobers up and pursues a more realistic policy in Afghanistan, Pakistan might even make progress on its real problems.
Elsewhere in the issue, Andrew Bacevich quotes Cold Warrior Richard Pipes’ 1979 declaration to the effect that since Afghanistan is a place of no strategic importance, the Soviet invasion of that country must have been a step towards a goal elsewhere. Bacevich agrees that Afghanistan was without strategic importance when Pipes said that, and says that it continues to be so. Where he disagrees with Pipes is in his assessment of the rationality of the Soviet leadership of the 1979-1989 period, and indeed of the US leadership of today. He claims that the Soviets invaded Afghanistan because they believed that showing power there would shore up their empire; in fact, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was a significant factor in the eventual collapse of the USSR. Likewise, America’s leaders want to persist in Afghanistan, not because of they have made any rational calculation indicating that they should, but because they are dare not make a calculation that might indicate that they should not.
This issue includes a piece by always-intriguing, highly eccentric writer Eve Tushnet. Tushnet has a gift for the lapidary; she describes growing up in Washington, DC as one of very few white children in her neighborhood, albeit one “weird enough that my skin color was not one of the obvious targets of teasing.” Recounting her childhood Halloweens, she writes that “A mask is above all an attempt to communicate, to create and reshape meaning over the silence of skin.” Quite a provocative phrase, “the silence of skin.” On a par with her line from 2008, “by religion, I mean an understanding of the nature of love.”